I don’t remember exactly when I got my first period. I only remember that it was well after attending the “Julie’s Story” presentation at school in 5th grade. The one where only the girls got called down to the gymnasium at our school and returned to class with large trial-sized maxi pads that left the boys awkwardly asking “What are those?!”
And I do remember that I was one of the last of my circle of friends to finally get it. I also have a vague memory of being at my family’s lake house with some girlfriends from middle school the summer after my first period, and my friends Beth and Christine spent an hour in the bathroom with me helping me put in my first tampon so we could go swimming (girlfriends are amazing)! I’ve been fortunate to have a pretty regular period over the years, except for the few years I used the Depo Provera injection for birth control and enjoyed no period at all.
And then the kind lady at the Student Health Center handed me a pamphlet about the risk of this method of birth control depleting your body of calcium, and I decided to try another method. I also enjoyed not having my period during my 3 pregnancies and during the time I nursed my children.
And then, after the birth of my 3rd child, my periods changed. They became heavy, my breasts ached for days ahead of time, the 3 days before my period I was treated to unpredictable bouts of crying and an unmistakable intolerance for the tiniest indiscretions, and Ibuprofen became my best friend for the first 2 days after my period to numb the pressure, heaviness, and cramps. I started to count down the days until Menopause (which averages around 51 years in the US) so that means only approximately……..156 more periods????????!!!!!!!!!!!!! This can’t be?!!!
So I determined it was a mind over matter game. I would simply stuff all the period symptoms in a sack. As my tears welled up the week before my next period, I stuffed them down. As my soul ached for some alone time in the days before my period, I forced myself to be social and deal with the annoyances of those around me head on. As the cramps surfaced in the hours before and days after, I pushed the Ibuprofen aside and signed up for my HIIT exercise class. And I was miserable…..every step of the way.
And then I discovered the book The 28 Days Lighter Diet by Ellen Barrett and Kate Hanley (with a special sidebar from one of my favorite resources, Biomechanist Katy Bowman). It was a total eye opener! They propose tailoring your eating, exercising, and social plans based on where you are in your monthly cycle. Genius!!! They also advocate filling out a monthly energy wheel (you can find a printable one at 28dayslighterdiet.com). Use this wheel to jot down moods, energy, workout choice, social preference, food cravings, breast tenderness, cramps, vivid dreams, etc. “The ‘data’ you collect will help you to understand the inner workings of your body and how they in turn affect everything from your weight and workout choices to your social interactions and thought processes.
From this point forward you’ll be able to work with your energy-not against it- as you become more sensitive to the subtle and not-so-subtle workings of your hormones, and you’ll be better able to hear your intuition.” I filled one of these out for a few months and was shocked to see how predictable things really were. This gave me the permission I needed to schedule in some alone time around Day 26, to trade my high intensity workouts for a long walk (or nothing at all) on Day 1 or 2, and to stock healthy foods in plain sight during mid-cycle ovulation. I began to let the tears flow in the days leading up to my period, understanding that menstruation is a time to cleanse toxins and process emotions that may have been ignored throughout the month. Once I had the visual in place, I switched to using a period app for my phone. I use Clue, but some other favorites are Glow, Eve, and Period Tracker.
I won’t say everything with my cycle is rainbows and roses now, and I still enjoy the occasional Ibuprofen, but I do see menstruation as a gift versus a burden. And I hope, if you haven’t already, that you can make peace with Aunt Flo one day too!